T. S. Eliot’s ‘obscurity’ in the love song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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T. S. Eliot’s earliest verse is composed of observations, detached, ironic, and alternatively disillusioned and nostalgic in tone. Eliot’s mingling of subtle observation with unexpected cliché represents a difficulty that is often magnified because too much ’obscurity’ is assumed. This paper aims at clarifying the ’obscurity’ by means of a stylistic analysis of the linguistic devices that the poet used to create "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and its intended meaning. Adopting the concept of style as ’foregrounding’, the idea that style is constituted by departures from linguistic norms, it analyzes the poem in terms of its lexical foregrounding, and adopting the concept of style as ’choice’, the idea that style is constituted by choices of linguistic devices, it analyzes the poem in terms of its syntactic choices. It claims that it is the systematic foregrounding or violation of the norm of the standard which makes possible the poetic utilization of language. Without seeing foregrounding as a poet’s linguistic device, there could be no poetry for the poet or no possible understanding of poems for the reader. It also claims that stylistically significant syntactic choices by the poet serve effectively the intended meaning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-47
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016



  • Foregrounding
  • Lexical
  • Linguistic
  • Mental
  • Style
  • Stylistic
  • Symbolic
  • Syntactic

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